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Vignettes of the Varros

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F R A G M E N T S


I’m going to tell you a story I've never told before. Not to anyone. Not to my parents, not to my brothers, not even to my wife. To tell it would only bring dishonor to my name, a sudden need to be someone else, which is how we all feel when confessing our darkest sins.

Even now I should admit to you that this story makes me squirm. For more than twenty years, I've lived with it, eating the shame, gulping it down, and so by this act of remembrance, by putting my quill to parchment, I will release these terrors from my dreams.

Still, it is no easy story to tell. Don’t we all like to believe that in the moral emergencies of our time, we will all behave like the heroes of our youth? With bravery and forthrightness? Without regard toward personal loss or discredit?

Certainly, this was my conviction when I was young, just a young man playing legion. In that summer of naivety, I like to think that if the stakes ever became high enough—if the evil were evil enough—I would muster from within some secret reserve of courage that had been building up inside me over my few short years. Courage, I foolishly thought, comes to us in little quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal men in our youth –by stashing it away and letting it mature like a bank note—I would steadily increase my decent capital in preparation for that day when the bill came due.

And that day came.

It was the summer of my eighteenth season when I
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House Varro | Stories | Profile| Belisarius#2034
Posted Sep 7, 17 · OP · Last edited Sep 7, 17
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M O T H E R


Belisarius Varro fell to his knees. In the dead grass, he stayed, fallen like a steel trunk against the dirt of the earth. The leaves gathered about him red and brown and crisped and brittle. He took them into his hands, and the leather of his gloves groaned when he balled his fingers into fists. His hands opened and he stared down at the decay that clung to him.

The day was dimming and so was the season, and though his eyes were watered with some unseen pain, he could clearly see the grave. It was a pillar of marble hewn as an obelisk, and it stood there like a sword sunk into the face of the earth. Etched upon it was a name. He reached out to trace his fingers across it.

Camila Cassia Varro.

“Mother,” he said. There was no response but for the wind, and it blew light through the dead field, and it swirled the leaves and shivered around the trees, and it caught the man’s tabard in gentle ripples. He kept his hand pressed to the stone.

“I am terrified, mother. Terrified that when I close my eyes, I can no longer conjure your image. I fear gravely that I have forgotten what you look like. And I hate myself for it.” The man’s breath fogged in front of him as he gave a shuttering sigh. “I’m sorry, mother. I am sorry for what father did. What your sons did. What I did. I am sorry that I did not return to you when I knew the world was ending.”

He crawled closer to the grave and pressed his forehead against the cold headstone.

“I know so many last words. But I will never know yours. And I must live with that – forever.”

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House Varro | Stories | Profile| Belisarius#2034
Posted Oct 11, 17 · OP · Last edited May 6, 18
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L O S S


The men came on horses weary and wounded and muddied from the day's ride, and that day had known rain, and both horse and rider gleamed with it, saddles soaked and leathers darkened and manes of hair knotted and tangled and wet, and the hair stank like swamp, and the men smelled of mud, and the black muck spattered up their legs and their lamellar skirts, and it spotted the thighs of the purebred horses in unseemly spackles, so as to dirty their heritage, and mar their image, and make them appear as dappled horses of some lesser breed.

But these were no ordinary stock, for they were broadchested beasts of considerable height, and a powerful build of sinew and bone, and they pranced swift and proud with their determination, even though some of them had been struck with wounds, or bore arrows in their sides, or dripped with blood from the wicked slashes of unseen blades.

They rode the long path to where they knew their lord would be, and they found him waiting at the gates. He sat there still in gilded steel, his tabard dripping wet. The rainwater fell in rivulets from the crimson plume of his helmet, and from the bearskin cape tethered to his neck. The cape lay like a wet blanket behind him, covering the hindquarters of the horse-lord's mighty mount, a black myth known as Triton.

Triton flicked his tail when the wounded horsemen approached. They gathered wordlessly around their lord, then one of them dismounted. He walked to the rear of the squadron while the rest of the riders sat atop their saddles and watched their leader brood. None of them spoke. The only sound was the crackling of the torches by the gates, and the whipping of the wind against the banner of the horse.

The dismounted knight returned, and in his hands he carried a bloody necklace. The pendant, a horse figurine, dripped red with blood. The soldier's boots squelched in the mud and he stopped in front of his lord and bowed his head in sorrow and dread.

The lord dismounted. His armor jingled while he took those reluctant steps forward, and in that moment, it seemed as though he moved through the space of some other time and some other place, and with his body he could not feel; not the wind on his face, nor the rain on his skin. He reached out with a shaking hand and pulled the jewelry into his hands and clutched it tightly in a fist.

There was silence, and a stare, and in the distance a wolf howled a long and dying yowl.

Lord Varro staggered back like a man come to the end of something. His boots slipped in the mud, and he fell to his knee, and his head drooped, and his helmet fell from his head, and rolled to the feet of the man who stood there before him, holding out his hands like an offering.

"How?" The lord's voice cracked.

"She threw herself off the mountain, my lord. There was nothing to be done." The man paused and dipped his head to avert his gaze. "Shall we search for her body?"

"No," Varro said. Something in him changed when he stood to his feet. "Let the wolves consume her."

The man nodded and turned away.

Varro remained where he stood. More silence. He looked down at his hands. They were covered in blood.

He balled both hands into fists, then stared into that grey slack of land beyond.
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House Varro | Stories | Profile| Belisarius#2034
Posted Dec 2, 17 · OP
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O R I G I N

It had been raining for four days when he left the estate to meet his father by the stable, and it was raining yet. He had been standing under the same thatch awning for over an hour and he had drank all the water from his pouch and he’d eaten the last bit of cheese he remembered to pack for breakfast before his father would come to meet him for the hunt. His brothers had come and gone and the stables were all but empty, save for one horse that stood quiet in the farthest stall, the mare’s mane and hair as black as crow feathers. The door to the stable hung open and the rain fell all around in the empty muddy field and gathered in tributaries that flowed on either side of the roughly hewn Imperial road. The stony path cut through the hills and led not only to his home, but to other roads and other homes. As he waited, Belisarius watched the dim sky, her bold clouds low and dark and brooding. He felt the wind slice through his leathers and the mist sprayed his face and he held his arms to fight back the shiver and secretly he wondered why his father insisted to hunt on the eve of winter. He was only sixteen, but he felt older.

Up the stony road, from the low farmhouses that were sunk to their skirts in mud came forth a figure draped in a saddle blanket, trundling up the way to the stable. As she came nearer, the blanket slipped off her sodden head, revealing her to be a scrawny and pale-faced thing on the cusp of womanhood, all angular limb and awkward gait. She was towheaded in a way that would almost certainly dull to a dark blond by the time she reached adulthood. Accustomed to walking with her head down, she did not see that the master’s son standing upon the threshold between the cold and wet and the steaming dry. As she looked up, tugging the blanket off her head, she gasped softly, before folding the cloth under her arm. “’Scuse me, sir, I didn’ know you’d be about.”

Belisarius stepped aside and held open the door to the stable, iron hinges rusted and creaking. “You needn’t apologize,” he said, his voice calm yet hoarse, as though he hadn’t found a good night’s rest in quite a long time. “It is I who is probably intruding on your regular schedule of duty.” He looked back out at the field where the water stood in pools all around. Worms crawled out of the dirt and wriggled every which way to escape the deluge and Belisarius thought he could smell them. He traced his eyes down the road and across the hills, but seeing no one else, he ducked back into the stable where he began to explain himself.

“My father scheduled a hunt this morning, but he is either late, or he and my brothers left without me.” He frowned and reached up to remove the thick wool hood that covered his head. The Colovian’s hair was cropped tight, mostly shaven after the military fashion, excepting a thin strip of hair across the crown of his skull, the brown hair resembling a ridge of mountains on a beige plain. His grey eyes watched the girl for a moment. There was something about his gaze that was older than his years, some discernment not typically found on a sixteen year-old nobleson. “Are you the new stable help? Your father is from Kvatch.”

She nodded, awkwardly, turning away her white face lest he see the tint of a gauche red staining her cheeks. Damp hair clung to the nape of her neck as she draped the saddle blanket over a stall door to dry. She turned her gaze downward. “Yes, milord. But we never had horses there. I never even touched one, really.”

“Never touched one?” Belisarius said. Both his eyebrows raised at the girl. “Well we will need to change that immediately, especially if you are to serve in in the House of Lord Varro. Come.” He beckoned her toward the far end of the stall where he led her through the narrow dirt causeway. Hay lay strewn about the flooring, most of it collected in the trench that ran along each row of stalls. Horse droppings and urine and more straw collected in the trench, some of it fresh, most of it old. “As you can see, this will need to be cleaned.”

He kept walking to the very last stall. He stopped and reached over the wooden gate to press his bare palm against the horse’s cheek. The dark-haired mare leaned into his touch, black eyes disappearing briefly as the animal’s eyes closed in apparent pleasure. “This is Mara. My dearest friend. Go on, touch her just like that. She will not bite you.”

The girl’s white and timid hand reached up to rest upon the bony ridge between the mare’s cheek and her muzzle. With thin fingers she brushed gently along the bridge of the convex nose, and Mara gave a low, murmuring whinny at the girl’s gentle hands. “How long have you had her?” the girl asked, less timid now as she tiptoed to brush the mare’s ebony forelock away, tucking it over her broad, black brow. “She’s very beautiful.”

“She is, isn’t she.” Belisarius smiled at the horse and continued brushing at the animal’s cheek. “She likes you. Perhaps she has made a new friend.” He chuckled softly, then explained: “I’ve had her for a year. My uncle gave her to me as a birthday present. I’ve never had my own horse. But my brothers and I, we all learned to ride when we were very young. Would you like me to show you how to ride?”

The girl blinked slowly at the invitation; in her mind there lurked an inherent incredulity that anyone could show her a mite of consideration, let alone a young eques. Her hand fell away from the mare’s head as she wrung her fingers cagily, peering up at him through eyelashes. “I don’t see why you’d want to teach me. I’m just the stablehand’s daughter, and you… you’re a lot more.” She faltered as the fading blush on her cheeks pulsed. She reached for the rake sitting up-ended in the corner of the building, using the chore her father sent her to do to disguise the sudden ungainliness in her posture.

He watched her for some time, watched her scrape the rake along the packed earthen floor, where she dragged stray straw and horse droppings into a pile. A mask of remorse shadowed his face, and in his mind he wondered if he would have responded as she did, if he stood in her shoes.

Resolved to make the decision for her, Belisarius climbed atop the saddle of his horse, where he belonged. His body seemed to mold to the mare’s contours and his boots seemed made for the stirrups. In an instant he urged the horse out of the stall and down the stableway where he leaned over and in one powerful swoop, lifted the young girl into the saddle where he held her with one arm. He pressed his heel into the horse and off they went, galloping into the rain.

“Are you frightened?” he called out to her. Mud flung up wildly as they fled free into the field.

Mara’s flank grew speckled with mud as she was spurred across the sodden fields, her hooves churning up furrows of earth, the falling rain pelting steed and riders all as they sped. The girl clung to the horn of the saddle, braced against the wind and rain that whipped at her face, felt as though the very land was racing away from them with each pounding beat of the mare’s hooves.

She had never moved so fast in her life, but the pulse of excitement that thudded at the base of her throat was not fear. It was thrill.

“No!” she gasped, cleaving to the saddle with her legs.

“Good!,” he said. “I believe you. Horses can sense if their rider is afraid. This will be a short ride, I promise.” He shifted hands so he could take the reins with his left and point off to his right. “You haven’t seen the Varro estate yet, have you? I’ll show you.”

He led the horse south through the field, where the muddy wash gave way to fields of golden wheat ripe for harvest. The horse’s gait slowed when they reached a creek, the water fast-moving and so clear you could see the crawfish clinging to the smooth, mossy stones. On they went, galloping under trees that dripped rain water, jumping over beaver dams made of brush, climbing out of boggy trenches filled with wash. At last they ascended a hillock that overlooked the valley. There, in the distance, rested a white-stoned villa. The roof was capped with maroon shingles and the courtyard was filled with alabaster statues and carvings of warriors of old mounted on famous horses. A paved road led to a gate, over which hung an archway carved from a solid stone of marble. Etched in it was the sigil of the House: a horse reared up on its hind legs. Leading to the gate were rows of tall pine trees, each of them meticulously trimmed, like sentinel towers watching.

“That is my home,” Belisarius said. He adjusted his wool cloak so it was covering them both. “It can be your home too, if you learn the ways of the horse. The best of our decurions come from Kvatch and Anvil, you know. They are positions based on merit, not on blood. Much like the pit-fighters. The best of warriors climb to the greatest heights.”

In the narrow confines of her young life of scullery fires, mud-slicked cobblestones and wholesale degradation, the girl had never imagined this. The narrow cypresses were dark and pointed against the golden barley and the wind and rain sent undulating ripples through the tallest ears and sent them swaying, dancing. She never knew that corn could dance, and watched, mesmerized, one pale hand gripping the edge of the young master’s cloak where it draped over her shoulder. She shuddered in the cold as he held her, but all inside she felt feverish and knew, for the first time, that she wanted something more than bread or milk or the kind touch of a father that lay all his nights in drink.

But she tucked her gaze low, and inside her she already knew she was not made for a world shaped of marble and alabaster.

“Maybe one day,” she murmured, and turned her head away.




***

The days turned to weeks and the harvest came and went and soon the days of autumn faded and all the world knew was grayslacked skies and frostcovered mornings of cold ground and bones. The stable had been made warm for winter--extra boards over the windows stuffed with hay, blankets for the horses, and a hearth built in the center where coals were raked and logs were turned and meat was cooked by the sentries as they came and went and took their horses on patrol.

The riding lessons never stopped, however. Belisarius had set out to teach the girl, and so he made time every day to meet her early in the morning, before her chores, before his studies, before any prying eyes might see. He liked to train her before the thoughts of day could entrap her mind, before the words of men could taint the beauty of the land, before she could know anything else beside the horse’s strength between her thighs. The hooves crushing dirt. The scents of the wind cool on her face.

But today, the lessons would stop. And he didn’t know how he was going to tell her.

He was quiet when he entered the stable that day. He was quiet when he opened the door and carefully replaced the latch. He was quiet when he saw the girl beside the fire and he was quiet still as he walked to her in his riding leathers. He stayed quiet in the cool morning and all that existed between them was the sound of wood popping on the hearth. The lids on his eyes drooped more than they should and he tried to hide them underneath his hood. Finally he looked at her and smiled a smile that wasn’t a smile.

“I can’t train you today,” he admitted. “I can’t train you at all anymore, I’m afraid.” He took an iron poker from the hearth and stoked the flames. The log rolled and the orange coals ignited and both their faces went awash with warm orange heat. “My parents have arranged a marriage--well, my mother has arranged a marriage. And I am to be wed this evening. It would no longer be appropriate for us to meet like this.” He swallowed and pulled his lips into his mouth to wet them. For a moment his mouth disappeared and he met her gaze like some creature held by gag order. Then he spoke again. “I hope you understand.”

The girl’s shoulders rolled down and she said nothing. Her lips parted once, twice, but she closed her mouth and stood up; lit by flame her shadow fell long and gangling across the stall doors, neck-bent and broken. “I understand, milord.” Her voice hitched in her throat, making it clear that she was not as understanding as she claimed to be. Her pale eyes wandered down the stalls, where rows of dark, velvety muzzles peered out in the gloom. She stood, facing an empty stall. “Except that... I don’t know what kind of threat I’d be to your marriage. I’m nothing.” Back turned, she folded her arms over herself, the fire gilding the fairest strands of her hair. “People forget about me. Nobody would notice me. Nobody’d see me.”

Belisarius let loose a remorseful sigh. He gathered himself beside her by the fire. Stared into it. The words of his house echoing in his mind: reign with fire. An old anachronism from times when the Lords knew the power of magicka; a skill long lost, a knowledge all but forgotten in the long line of men who called themselves Varro. “Perhaps you’re right,’ he admitted. “No one would notice. Many would look through you for being just a stable girl.” He hesitated. Looked down at his feet where his leather boots seemed to him to hold the appendages of some other man. As though he didn’t know himself. “But I would see you. I’d never be able to look past you. And that would be unfair to her, to my parents. To you.” He fingered his sword and bit at his lip and fought back the urge to hug the younger girl. He was about to throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, but the footsteps made him stop.

“No. It wouldn't be fair,” she assented.

He drew his hands up to his neck and lifted the steel chain he always wore. He took it off and held the pendant out to the fire. It was the Varro sigil carved from onyx, a black horse reared on its hindquarters, its mane carved to look like flames. Near the warmth of the hearth, the pendant grew warm to the touch and the eyes of the horse glowed a dim orange. Belisarius reached and took her hand in his. He placed the pendant in her palm, then gently closed her fingers around it.

“For you,” he said. “Keep this--and you will always be a Varro.”

A figure appeared at the far end of the stable. The silhouette of a man bred for nobility: wide shoulders, an upward-tilted chin, piercing eyes, and a mane of hair as blonde and long and silky as the rarest white mane on the rarest white horse. Lord Lucius Proximus Varro. Belisarius turned to face him, but was immediately confused. His father had planned to meet him for a hunt, yet he was wearing his steel plate cuirass with the familial engraving on the chest piece.

“Belisarius,” Lucius said, his voice echoing. Then two more figures appeared by Lord Varro’s side. Armored men. Swords at their belts. Capes of leather hanging from the pauldrons of mighty shoulders. Plumed helmets crowned with hair dipped in crimson. These were no retainers of the House, but legionaries. Soldiers of the Empire.

Belisarius turned and stepped in front of the girl. “Father. I wasn't expecting you. What’s this?”

Lucius looked at his fingernails. “Of course you weren’t. These are your escorts. You will be going off to join the legion.”

Belisarius stood dumbfounded. He just stared at his father. “But the wedding. Aestiva. I thought-”

Lucius shook his head. He never met his son’s gaze. “You thought wrong. There will be no wedding. I have canceled your marriage. You’re a fifth son, you have no need of marriage.” Then, with a flick of his hands, Lucius motioned the two soldiers forward. They began marching down the stable hall, armor plates scraping, mail armor jingling.

Belisarius gave a frightened glance at the girl. The footsteps grew closer. “Take care of Mara for me, will you?” His grin faded, then he turned and tried to put up a fight, but he was no match for steel armor and iron-studded boots.

The struggle was brief, but by the time they were done with him, he lay in a heap on the floor, beaten unconscious, face-down and bloody in the trench of straw and horse manure. The soldiers watched the girl and then exchanged glances with each other, but hearing no further instruction from the Lord at the end of the stable hall, they left her to watch as they dragged Belisarius off and out into the rainy wash.
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B E T R A Y A L



It took them hours to sort out the horses and drive them across the river. When they were done, they set out upcountry, the plains about them grey and brown and devoid of life. A thin horn moon lay on its back in the west like a chalice, and the bright shape of a star hung directly above it as though it guided the moon like some vessel in the night.

They kept to the backcountry, clear of the roads and the river, and they rode long into the night toward a morning that never came. All was dark and all was quiet and all they knew was the sound of horses beating a trodden path of dark.

Upon a cluster of burned trees they came, whose black and branchless trunks sank deep and dull into the face of the dying world. Here they paused and here they watched the ragged scene as though they viewed their homeland in its murder. In her final throws of death.

“There was water here once,” he said.

“The fires took it,” she said.

“There’s no grass.”

“There may be. It will be daylight soon.”

“You should drink.”

“I am not thirsty.”

“Drink.”

She took the rawhide waterskin from her riding bandolier and drank.

“I will need your helmet,” he said.

“My lord?”

“Your helmet and your decury. I am relieving you of your command.”

She lowered the canteen. Blinked. “Uncle. I-- I do not understand.”

He remained silent for a long time. A shadow passed in front of the moon, and not long after, the squawk of a crow.

“It’s gone on long enough, Valeria.”

She turned her horse to face him. Panic fled out of her nearly as fast as her words. “I am sorry, Uncle. I didn’t mean it. We didn’t mean it. We just—”

He dismounted his horse and came beside her. She stared at his hand. “Your helmet.”

“Uncle.”

“Your helmet.”

She reached up and unleashed the leather tie beneath her quivering chin. When she pulled it over, hair like ink fell over her face to hide her wetting eyes.

“Uncle,” she said again. Her voice broke. “Please.”

He took the helmet from her.

“I love him.”

He walked toward his horse, then stopped. He turned and he stared up at her with a darkness in his gaze that she had never seen before.

“I do not care if you love him – we inbreed horses, not our bloodline. I have threatened this before. I have sent him away. And still you defy me. Now, it is you who will go away, Valeria. You will go and you will learn and you will do as I say and you will do it when I say you will do it and you will kill who I tell you to kill and you will steal from whom I tell you to steal and you will report to me every event in every detail and if you fail in any thing I ask you will never see him again.”

He took the helmet and threw it in the river.

“Have I been understood.”

No answer. She stared at the dark water glimmering in the night.

A hand clutched her jaw.

“Do you understand.”

She had to glare through all the wetness in her eyes. She set her jaw.

“Yes. Uncle.”

“Good,” he said in finality. He turned toward his horse. “You leave for Sybaris tomorrow.”

It wasn’t until he fully mounted his horse that she lowered her chin to her chest, and cried.
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K I N S L A Y E R

The warlord built a guillotine on the courtyard grounds and fashioned it with a blade forged from sharpest steel, and they took the woman’s body and bore it aloft in the manner of a slain champion and hurled her onto the device so designed for the execution of the masses. They’d tied her hoglike and bent her over the rack and stuck her head through the stockade like some thing to be laughed at, but there was none among them laughing; only the cold and darkened gazes of the lord and the lady and the armored soldiers of the House of Varro in their boiled leathers of black and gold-fringed surcoats; hands on swords, spears gripped in fists; eyes watching, waiting, eager. No words spoken but for the wordless movement of eyes, the gentle flapping of the banners in the wind, the shifting of the clouds as they passed in front of the high-noon sun. The woman in the stockade was cast in a sudden shadow and it was in this shadow that Belisarius Quintus Varro approached her and stood over her and spoke in quiet tones.

What was said could hardly be remembered, for there was no remorse in that woman’s eyes, and she did not beg, for she was proud in what she had done, and she showed it when she spat at him. The one they called the horse-lord gave pause to this; regarded her for what she was: his blood, his relative, his family to guide and protect and lead in that horrid period of war that he had come to know so well. And here he was, standing over her not as her uncle or her lord or her friend, but her executioner for a treason that he could not forgive, no matter how long he deliberated or reasoned or attempted to convince himself toward the opposite.

Time crawled and he felt the eyes of those he led boring down on him and he crouched beside the woman and with his fingers lifted her chin so that he could look her in her eyes, and all he saw in her was hate, and this pained him. His other hand lifted and he reached for the lever beside the pulley. And then, instead of pulling the lever to drop the blade to her neck, Belisarius unsheathed his bootknife, and with his left hand, gripped the woman’s hair in a fist, and jerked her head back, and with his right hand, drew the knife across her throat in rapid, precise motions; sawing back and forth, back and forth, through flesh, through sinew, through bone. He did not stop until her screams turned to gurgles and then to nothing and when he dropped her head into the bucket it fell with a dullness and a wetness and a finality that no guillotine could muster.

The woman’s torso was dragged up by the heels and raised and flung onto a pyre and her blackhaired head was committed to the point of a pike. And so died Lenore Varro, for a treason that the horse-lord does not speak of to this day, for he would rather wear the title of kinslayer than let the truth be known.
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N O V A

Hot sand stretched on either side where he made his landfall. The beach had been stripped clean by a recent tide and all of it lay pristine and naked and virgin. It seemed to shiver and ripple when his steel boots struck their mark deep into dimpled ground. Polished and ornate with Imperial kneecaps, catching glints of golden light. A vast silence reigned over the shore. Just the breathing of the world and her seething sea. The land lifeless, without movement, lone and dry and nothing there to see but rock and distant palms like silent arbiters watching, swaying. The spirit of that place unperturbed and unconcerned with the great warring of the world. There was a hint of pain in his step, but there came with it a militant endurance — a march unstoppable and mirthless, footsteps deep and depressed, polished toes kicking up the sand, sullying that untouched canvas. A carved out mark upon a nascent world. There was a heave, and a plunge, and a stake was driven into the ground. He stood back. It was a tall banner, a black banner, unfurled to fly free in the wind. Upon it, the sigil of the horse: masterful, infallible, this forcene figure seemed to commune in him some wisdom of eternity that forged itself deep inside him where it stirred darkly — where it seethed — then boiled.
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B L A C K F L A G

It was night and the sea shone like a sheet of silver in the stillness. The wind blew steady and warm and the sails held taut to the masts like great black kites sent to blot out both moon and star. Flying above these sails was a streaming silk banner of black and gold. The image upon it was made in the shape of a horse, the horse of House Varro.

Lord Varro paced the deck in black boiled leathers. He left dark footprints in the damp wood. Wind caught his cape when he climbed the stair to the stern of the ship. He stood for a time watching the darkened scape of Cyrodiil diminish in the distance. Steadily the wind carried him away until there was nothing left to see but the water and the sky and the stars. The only sound to hear was the wind, and the groaning of the ropes, and the creaking of the floorboards of his newly fashioned flagship: The Lady Vesri.

Another man in leathers joined him at the railing. The two spoke in quiet tones. Whispered words like conspiracy that night could only know.

“I’ve had your cabin made ready for the night, my lord. We should be arriving at Port Eyrie at first light.”

Belisarius watched the last pairing of the moon where it hung thin and sickle-like over the horizon in the north.

“I am not retiring this evening,” the horse-lord said. “And we are not going to Port Eyrie.”

“No, my lord?”

“No,” Varro said. He turned his gaze to the sky and stared up at the gauzy swarm of stars. He inhaled the air and tasted the salt on his tongue. “We’ll sail north."

Belisarius pulled an ebon helmet over his head. Two stag horns rose from the iron visor like the pincers of some devil. He turned his gaze northward. Small lights could be seen on the horizon. He nodded toward it.

“The Breton Commander who betrayed me five years ago: he is quartering there with a company of knights from High Rock.”

“But—my lord—that is a fishing village. Hammerfell.”

“Yes. Ready the horses and the men. Lower our colors.”

“My lord—“

“Raise the black flag.”
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House Varro | Stories | Profile| Belisarius#2034
Posted May 30, 18 · OP
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